On Thursday, July 15th, the first-ever Human Rights Commission Event for Oregon Sex Workers is being held in Portland. Our commission is asking voters and the Oregon Legislature for full decriminalization of anti-prostitution laws, so that we can reduce harm against people working in the sex trades, and as a method of criminal justice reform to effectively fight trafficking.
For three hours, academics, researchers, medical experts, disability advocates, labor union representatives, and sex workers from Oregon and around the world will testify to invitees about why decriminalization of sex work is harm reduction for all Oregonians.
Currently, many local elected representatives, senators, commissioners, and officials publicly support Nordic or "End Demand" type models of criminalization, which means enforcing the arrest and punishment of clients or would-be clients.
"End Demand" models do NOT address trafficking and the folks in need of intervention: such as immigrants, minors, and youth who are runaways or experience domestic abuse, unhoused people, and those with disabilities. Arresting non-violent adults for trying to consensually pay for touch with another adult is a waste of money and resources, and creates more victims of a punitive court system.
Many sex workers know that touch is a human right and so is transacting about it. The socially conservative fear-mongers who want to abolish sex work have relied on false "statistics" and church funding to put us in jail, shame us out of our day jobs, and take our kids away. Organizations that pretend to be science-based and victim supportive like National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) or FightTheNewDrug are founded and managed by people who are anti-LGBTQ, anti-porn, and against sex before marriage.
For decades, organizations like these have been the wealthiest ad donors and loudest voices on “how to fight trafficking,” but their stances and legislation has led to more deaths, more poverty, and more hardship for people working in the sex trades and impacted by them. Recently-passed bills that claimed to target trafficking like FOSTA and SESTA were pushed by non-sex workers and anti-porn conservatives who claimed that making it harder for people to communicate about transactional sex would reduce violence, but they were very wrong, and more sex workers have died. Why would you make it harder for me to feed my child or myself, by arresting would-be clients or preventing me from making appointments?
“I am a single mother. Being an independent, consensual sex work provider has allowed me to provide for my family. If it were not for sex work I would absolutely be homeless,” testified Bella*, a member of the Oregon Sex Workers Committee during a June 3rd legislative hearing. (*Bella is a pseudonym, as the speaker requested anonymity.)
Stoney, another parent and sex worker agrees that it’s time legislators listened to the people who are impacted by their laws. “Being disabled, sex work allows me more freedom and earning potential than a conventional job does,” says Stoney. “This allows me to work and study from home while taking care of my child.”
Violence is lower in places where porn is accessible. Watching it doesn't make people violent. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are higher in places where sex work is criminalized. People working in sex trades are unlikely to report violence against them if the work they do to survive is a crime. There is excellent research and first-hand media that explains how and why, and these resources are often suppressed by people in power who think that sex work is sinful or “yucky.”
Experts who are literate in sexual health know that the work isn’t inherently harmful.
“During my twenty-eight years I have encountered the harms of our current laws that drive sex work underground," said Dr. Evelin Dacker, a family physician based in Salem. "Decriminalization will not only provide more safety for sex workers but allow more people to understand that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of being human."
It's time more people learned the truth about how current laws restrict bodily autonomy and make it harder to fight trafficking. Submit testimony for the historic event at oregonsexworkers.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in the July 15 event.
Elle Stanger is a sex worker and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She earned her BA in Criminology at PSU and is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator. Stanger is a member of the Oregon Sex Workers Human Rights Commission.
Alex Andrews is a sex worker who has lived experience under criminalization of consensual sex work in Florida. She is the co-founder of SWOP Behind Bars and is a former board member for SWOP-USA and Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). Andrews is the co-chair of the Oregon Sex Workers Human Rights Commission.